The Reform Movement’s Rick Jacobs Has no Understanding of Tolerance

The various religious denominations in Judaism have coexisted peacefully in the United States for over one hundred years. Each denomination has very different viewpoints on the Torah and on acceptable practices and customs in matters of religious life. The choices each make are distinct, and they do not seek to control or influence how the other denominations choose to interpret or handle their religious lives. As such, the tolerance that each exhibits for the other is just a consequence, not a goal. The groups are not fighting over the same remote control. They lead parallel lives.

It is with this in mind that I note the various themes and calls for “tolerance” over the past months from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.

Consider Rabbi Jacobs Chaunkah message.

Jacobs opens his message with a note from Dr. Shaye Cohen who claimed that the battle of the Hasmoneans “marks the first time in recorded history that a war was begun in defense of religious liberty and individual freedom of belief.” An interesting point from a Harvard professor with a PhD in Ancient History.

However, the comment was quickly misinterpreted by Jacobs. In the following paragraph he wrote that “The Maccabees fought the first battle for religious tolerance in history. (emphasis added).” That is a complete distortion of Cohen’s comment and of history.

judas_maccabeus_before_the_army_of_nicanor
Judah the Maccabee in battle

The story of Chanukah related to the Syrian Greeks trying to Hellenize the Jews over 2100 years ago. The Greeks did not seek to introduce another alternative form of religious practice into the Holy Land. They sought to replace Judaism by defiling the Jews’ religious places.  The fight was an ALL-OR-NONE proposition.

The reaction by the Hasmoneans was similar in nature. The fought back for “religious liberty” and to rid the land of pagan practices. They countered the defilement of the Temple with purifying the Temple. They responded to the introduction of pagan practices with its expulsion.  The last thing that Chanukah celebrated was “religious tolerance.” It was a battle between all-or-nones.

Reform’s View of Tolerance in Israel Today

Judea and Samaria

Rabbi Jacobs misunderstanding of tolerance stretches from his interpretation of history in the Holy Land from over 2000 years ago until today.

In November 2015, Jacobs addressed his reform movement’s biennial in a keynote address. In this important speech about the direction of Reform Judaism he said (at 24:30) “Our Reform Movement, we have long opposed Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank (applause). The occupation threatens the very Zionism we hold dear.” He declared that his religious movement opposed Jews living in parts of the Holy Land. Seemingly not very tolerant.

He continued: “- the living expression of a Jewish and democratic state. It causes pain and hardship to the Palestinians and alienates Israel from friends and allies around the world. Only two states for two peoples, both states viable and secure, living side-by-side in peace, will bring this tragic conflict to its long-awaited end (loud applause).” Jacobs argued for a tolerance achieved by separation. A divide into two distinct states. However, he really meant a specific state of Arabs which should have no Jews, and a second state of Israel with both Jews and Arabs (the “progressive” two state solution is 1.5 states for Arabs and 0.5 states for Jews).

It was a curious twist on tolerance, for a “progressive” to condemn a Jewish “settler” that sought to live in peace alongside Arabs.

The Kotel

Rabbi Jacobs comments in November 2015 seemed to come into conflict with his actions a few months later.

In July 2016, Rabbi Jacobs marched into the occupied territories and demanded rights for Reform Jews.

rick-jacobs-kotel
Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, center, participating in a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 4, 2016. (photo: Courtesy of the URJ)

Rabbi Jacobs came to the Old City of Jerusalem to pray and advocate for new privileges for non-Orthodox Jews. He did not seem to care or notice that much of the world considers the Old City of Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territory. That same territory which he thinks should be under Palestinian Authority, a political agency which advocates against Jews living anywhere in the area and seeks to stop the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

His mind-bending views on “tolerance” continued as he led and advocated for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

The Kotel is the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple Mount. It has was the area set aside by Suleiman I 450 years ago for Jews to pray, after he kicked them off of the Temple Mount itself. Since 1967, the area has functioned as an Orthodox synagogue, and only Orthodox prayer practices are allowed there.

Jacobs seeks to change that and demands the legality of non-Orthodox practices at the Western Wall.  He is not satisfied with non-Orthodox prayers happening at the Southern Wall (which is actually bigger and prettier), away from the Orthodox services. We wants the Orthodox to tolerate his practices at the Kotel.

This is quite a different approach than Jacobs applies in other situations.  Jacobs normally advocates for peace via separation; tolerance via parallel paths.  Yet when it comes to the Kotel, (in an area he thinks shouldn’t even be part of Israel), he has demanded to impose his practices in the space of others.

Real Tolerance in Israel Today

The story of Chanukah was a fight for “religious liberty.” The all-or-none approach of the Greeks was countered with an all-or-none purge by the Jews. Neither side sought “religious tolerance.”

Remarkably, Modern Israel has taken a different approach.

  • While the Arabs of the Middle East sought to stop Jewish immigration – even at the dawn of the Holocaust – Israel opted to grant 160,000 non-Jews Israeli citizenship when it declared a state in 1948.
  • Even though the Arabs expelled all of the Jews from the Old City of Jerusalem in 1949, after Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it handed religious control of the Jewish Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf.
  • Even though the Arabs continue to advocate for a Jew-free state, Israel has allowed all Arabs in Jerusalem to apply for Israeli citizenship since it annexed the eastern part of the city.

In a world where the all-or-none approach is typically met with an all-or-none response, Israel has shown remarkable tolerance and acceptance of “the other.”

Rabbi Jacobs chose to distort the meaning of Chanukah and turned it into a call for advocacy on behalf Muslims in Burma in a global fight for religious tolerance. It is a nice message, but one not found in Chanukah, and disconnected from his attitudes towards Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

Let’s celebrate the holiday of Chanukah and the miracle of Modern Israel. It is a story that liberals can enjoy without distorting history and the English language.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Rick Jacobs’ Particular Reform Judaism

New York Times Lies about the Gentleness of Zionism

The Many Lies of Jimmy Carter

The Impossible Liberal Standard

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

Squeezing Zionism

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

The Countries that Acknowledge the Jewish Temple May Surprise You

The United Nations has been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment for decades. Whether the issue was war, terrorism, blockades, the security barrier, peace talks, settlements, refugees, etc., the vast majority of countries have been very vocal and very critical of Israel.

The UN also has a long history of ignoring Jewish rights to their sacred sites, as described in “The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land.” The various countries in the UN had a chance to add their own voices to that history.

In the fall of 2015, Palestinian Arabs claimed that Jews were going to overrun the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and proceeded to kill and attempted to kill dozens of Israelis. Those events made the countries at the UN focus on discussing the Temple Mount itself. Their comments  on October 22, 2015 were interesting.

DSC_0087
The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount above the Kotel,
location of the First and Second Jewish Temples

(photo: FirstOneThrough)

A Muslim Holy Site

Not surprisingly, the Muslim countries referred to the Temple Mount as an exclusively Islamic holy spot.

  • State of Palestine” called the location the “Haram al Sharif,” the Muslim name for the Temple Mount.
  • Angola discussed the “Al Aqsa Mosque,” which is Islam’s third holiest spot, located on the southern tip of the Temple Mount
  • Qatar mentioned the “Holy Shrine

Some countries went further, and stressed that the Temple Mount compound was important only to Muslims.

  • Maldives stated Haram al-Sharif must be restored.  Israel must stop altering the Islamic and Arabic character of the city
  • Egypt noted that the “Holy Shrine was extremely important to more than one billion Muslims worldwide,” and said nothing about Jews
  • Iran called the site “Haram Al-Sharif, and called for respect for the rights of Muslim worshippers to pray at that site in peace.

Others were more extreme in their calls against Israel:

  • Saudi Arabia said that “Israel had failed to protect Islamic holy sites, demolished the gates of Haram al-Sharif and turned it into a prayer place for Jews.  Israeli extremists had set fire to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron
  • Kuwait described “attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque were an unprecedented assault against the inalienable religious rights of Muslims all over the world.   The OIC reiterated the historic and present Hashemite custodianship of the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, including Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
  • Morocco was alarmed at the situation of “Islamic holy sites. Jerusalem was the very essence of the Palestinian question and there could be no peace without clarifying the status of Al-Quds as capital of a Palestinian State.  Any harm brought against the Al-Aqsa mosque would heighten tensions.”

The surprise in the singular call of the Islamic character of the site, was that a single western country also only mentioned the Arabic and Muslim name for the site: the United Kingdom.

Just Holy Sites

Some countries avoided the controversy, like Spain, Chad, Nigeria, Norway, Korea and France, just referring to generic “holy sites.” Such language was impartial and neutral. That was perhaps logical in a tense and violent environment.

The Holy See mentioned that the location was sacred to “Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” An ACTIVELY balanced approach, which pulled all of the monotheistic religions to Jerusalem.

Turkey’s approach was a mix. Like the Holy See, it noted that “Jerusalem, a city sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, should be treated with the utmost respect.” But then went on to attack Israel’s practices at the site saying that Israel was “targeting holy sites and all other provocative activities undermining the status and sanctity of Haram al-Sharif must immediately stop.  The Jordanian role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem was crucial for the preservation of Haram al-Sharif as an Islamic sanctuary.”  It would appear that Turkey was willing to acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews, just not the Temple Mount.

Most countries like: New Zealand; Venezuela; China; Chile; the United States; Russia; Sweden; Lebanon; Malaysia; Guatemala; Brazil; Japan; India; Bangladesh; Costa Rica; Kazakhstan; Iceland; Botswana; Sri Lanka; Bahrain; Cuba; and Pakistan did not mention the holy site itself.

Yes, that many countries weighed in about the situation in Israel.

Three Countries Recognize Judaism at the Temple Mount

In the long list of world condemnation, there was a silver lining, and it came from the unlikeliest of countries. Three countries besides Israel, referred to the platform as the Temple Mount, recognizing the history of Jews at the location and the sanctity of the spot in Judaism.

  • Lithuania, a country not known for being a strong Israeli ally, said that the “Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount was a sacred place for both Muslims and Jews.”
  • Ukraine mentioned the Al Aqsa mosque, but then also said “It was important for both parties to find the courage to respect holy places in accordance with the principles specified in the fundamental international documents, particularly those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the agreements that regulated the status of the Temple Mount complex.”
  • Zimbabwe also said that “Access to the Temple Mount and other holy sites must be preserved under the status quo arrangements.”

These are not remarkable statements by these three countries on their face. But to consider that dozens of countries – including Israel’s allies – would not recognize the centrality of the Temple Mount to Judaism, does make their statements noteworthy.

Ukraine has a long history of anti-Semitism, but it was among the few countries that referred to the site by its historic Jewish name.  The three countries did go on to chastise Israel for actions on the Temple Mount, but at least they had the decency to not ignore Jews and Judaism also.

Six months later, in April 2016 in Paris, UNESCO itself weighed in that there was no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount when it drafted 40 points of rebuke against Israel, that only referred to the Jerusalem site by Islamic and Arabic names 19 times.  This was very deliberate, as seen when UNESCO went through the courtesy of referring to the common names of other Jewish holy sites in discussing “The two Palestinian sites of Al-Ḥaram Al Ibrāhīmī/Tomb of the Patriarchs in AlKhalīl/Hebron and the Bilāl Ibn Rabāḥ Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.”


Decades ago, several countries would not acknowledge the Jewish State, and many Arab countries to this day still refer to Israel as the “Zionist Entity.”  Much of the world is still so backwards, that it cannot even recognize the history of the Jewish people and the holiest spot for Judaism.

Send a note to the governments of Lithuania (misija.jt@urm.lt), Ukraine (uno_us@mfa.gov.ua) and Zimbabwe (zimbabwe@un.int) and let them know that their statements, while seemingly insignificant, meant a lot to a small nation with a little country in the middle of a hostile neighborhood and United Nations.

Consider sending a note to your home country and the UK (fax 212 745 9316)  as well, relaying your disappointment.  You are welcome to attach this article.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

Names and Narrative: CNN’s Temple Mount/ Al Aqsa Complex Inversion

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

The Arguments over Jerusalem

Subscribe YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: Israel Analysis

The Jewish Holy Land

Roughly 3300 years ago, the Jews received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Those commandments were designed for all Jews to follow at all times, whether the positive commandments like respecting one’s parents, or the negative commandments like not murdering.

One of the positive commandments included a reason for the order: keeping the Sabbath:

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. “

Exodus 20:8-11

God told the Children of Israel to not work on the seventh day of the week, just as God rested on the seventh day when He created the entire world.  By doing so, He made that seventh day holy, and commanded the Jews to make it holy as well.

The other nine commandments did not have explanations; the commandments were simply stated such as “You shall not steal.”  The second commandment of not taking the name of the Lord in vain “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children…” reveals more about the ramifications of ignoring the commandment, when no such threat was made in the text for the Sabbath.

Jews were told to actively remember the Sabbath, so, in turn, they can actively remember God’s creations and His decision to stop, rest and make the seventh day holy. The reason is not so much of an explanation, as it was meant to focus what should be remembered.

Shmita

God gave the Jews other commandments beyond the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The Jewish tradition is that the Torah contains 613 commandments, all of which were given at Mount Sinai.  The sages conclude this from Leviticus 25, where God commands Jews to observe shmita on Mount Sinai. The biblical commentator Rashi (1040-1105) stated that clearly mentioning that such law was given on Mount Sinai was to show that all of the commandments were given there as well.

1The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Leviticus 25:1-7

The commandment of shmita resembled the commandment of keeping the seventh day a day of rest.  In this case, the people may work the land for six years, but must not work the land on the seventh year, as the land must be given rest.  However, unlike the commandment for remembering the Sabbath day, the underlying reason for giving the land rest was not given.

Further, this commandment was localized to the Holy Land.  Only “when you enter the land I am going to give you,” when the Jews crossed the Jordan River, was the commandment relevant.

012
Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008
(photo: First.One.Through)

Nachmanides, or the Ramban (1194-1270), noted that there was a similarity of the Sabbath day and shmita when he wrote that shmita is about remembering this world and the world to come.  He derived that from Avos 5:9 which described that Jews would be punished with exile if they did not keep shmita. Ramban added  “whoever repudiates [shmita] shows that he does not acknowledge the truth of Creation and the World to Come.”

However, during his long explanation, the Ramban did not delve into the local nature of shmita.

Was the intention of the command’s preface to just let the Jews know that shmita was not necessary during the time from standing at Mount Sinai until they arrived in the Holy Land?  Or was there a message behind the land itself?

The Holy Land for the Jewish Nation

The commandment to observe Sabbath day became effective immediately when it was received on Mount Sinai.  Throughout the wanderings of the desert before they entered Israel, Jews kept the seventh day holy.  They did so, because they continued to live and benefit from God’s creations – even the desert itself.  Jews continue to observe Sabbath when they are not in the Holy Land for the same reason: the commandment’s underlying reason was to remember God’s creation of the entire world.

Was the commandment of shmita about memory too? Was it about remembering the “World to Come” as Ramban suggested?  If so, why did the commandment need to only be kept in Israel and needed to be delayed until they arrived in the Holy Land?

Perhaps the parallel of memory in the Sabbath day and shmita was not about “the truth of Creation and the World to Come,” but about God’s gift of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

God included the reason of keeping the Sabbath day as a remembrance of the world’s creation within the command itself.  Keeping the Sabbath included remembering the story of creation.

In the commandment of shmita, maybe there was also an explanation inside the text: “the land that I am going to give you.”  It was not just an explanation of when to begin observing the law, but the reason of observing the law: the land was God’s gift to the children of Israel.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיהֹוָה:

The Hebrew biblical text is different than God’s other promises of the promised land in the Torah.

  • When God promised the land to Abraham, it was described as “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), not give you.
  • In Exodus chapter 3, God described leading the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey that is occupied by many other nations.
  • In Exodus chapter 33, God told the Jews to go to the land that He promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Only in Leviticus did God change the language as giving the land to the Children of Israel themselves (Leviticus 20:24).  It was a gift for them, not just a promise made to forefathers.

That is why the commandment is localized in the Holy Land.  The commandment is not to just let the land lie fallow every seven years, but like the Sabbath, it is to remember that the land is God’s gift to the Jewish people.  It would be an insult to that special present of Israel for Jews outside of land to celebrate shmita.

God’s gift of Israel to the Jewish people is not limited by time, but an eternal present.  That is why even on the seventh year, when Jews cannot work the land, they can still enjoy the fruits of the land.  The gift never stops, even while Jews pause to remember the gift itself.

Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Like the Sabbath day that is commanded to Jews, but to be respected among non-Jews that live with Jews, so is God’s gift to the Jews of the land of Israel.  The fruits of such gift may be shared broadly among those living in the land together with the Jews.

Enjoy and actively remember the gift of the Holy Land every day.  Try not to wait every seven years.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

The Nation of Israel Prevails

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

“Flowing with Milk and Honey”

From Promised Land to Promised Home

Wearing Our Beliefs

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

New Group, ZOFLAT, Takes on Shift in Modern Orthodoxy

A Satire

Several leading rabbis and lay leaders in the Modern Orthodox community have started a new group called, ZOFLAT, Zionist Orthodoxy For Living in America Today. The group is advocating for more American Jews to remain in the United States and not move to Israel.

“There has been a dramatic shift eastward,” noted staunch American leader Madison Lipshitz. “When I grew up, no one made aliyah (moved to Israel).  Today, almost all of my old friends live in Israel.  Those that have remained are almost exclusively not religious.”

The movement of American Jews to Israel is made predominantly by the Orthodox community according to recent surveys.  Very few Jews with Reform backgrounds make aliyah.

Queens College professor Lawrence Cohen noted that the trend of Orthodox aliyah gained momentum over the past 30 years, when American high school graduates from Modern Orthodox yeshivas began to spend their “gap” year before college in Israel.  Many of those students ultimately moved to Israel as adults.  “We’re losing kids, and it’s our own fault,” he noted.

The impact is being felt throughout the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area. Many families have left their homes and followed their children to Israel.  They can now be found in “Anglo” communities including Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.  “We needed to do something to combat this trend,” explained Lipshitz.

IMG_2052
Young and old Americans at the Kotel
(photo: First.One.Through)

About a year ago, a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis, community leaders and educators formed the core of the new organization. The mission of the group was to show how religious Jews could live within the secular culture in America. “American Orthodox Jews are being silenced by the rise of Orthodox Jews living in Israel.  We needed to show that we are committed to the American way of life,” said founding Rabbi Freedom Lover, of Beautiful Beach Synagogue.  ZOFLAT’s stated goal is to flatline aliyah in Modern Orthodox America.

The first programs for ZOFLAT are being held in Manhattan near Washington Square Park this weekend.  American flags will be affixed to everyone’s nametag. Various prominent Jewish politicians will be speaking about Jews in American society.  Food will include hot dogs and baked beans and will specifically not feature shwarma and hummus.  An afternoon game of baseball is planned, depending on weather.  “We couldn’t wait for Memorial Day,” said Rabbi Lover, “the issue is now.”

“Too many people have been coerced into making aliyah or believing that living in Israel is the only way to live a meaningful life.  This group is dedicated towards showing that people should not be shamed or pushed aside because they don’t want to live in Israel,” added Rabbi Lover.

“I’m excited to come to ZOFLAT,” said Amy Schlessinger, a teacher in New York City, toting a Tony Burch bag.  “We need an organization that validates my lifestyle. America is the greatest country in the world, and just because of the Zionist shift of today’s youth, I shouldn’t be made to feel bad about my life choices.”

Rabbi Kenny Silverson, a principal of a local yeshiva, described the tension within the Modern Orthodox communities today. “The Judaism that is being lived today in Israel would be unrecognizable to my grandparents.  My own son moved to Israel and changed his last name. Our family name!” Rabbi Silverson, visibly upset, continued “still, we will try to be open-minded and have an open tent to those Orthodox Jews that move to Israel, but our raison d’être is to proudly defend those people that wish to remain in America and live the exact same lives that their parents and grandparents did.”

Rabbi Lover noted that he thought about developing this group after listening to various members of the Israeli Knesset describe there being no future for Jews living outside of Israel, which he found offensive.  Those comments by the Israeli leaders were made after terrorist attacks in Europe and the rise of anti-Semitism.

In 2008, Israel surpassed the United States as the largest Jewish community in the world.

“Modern Orthodoxy is facing a serious challenge,” Lover said. “The boundaries of the community cannot be dictated geographically.  We want to have flourishing communities throughout America without any guilt.  Having an organization with a great acronym should allay any feelings of self-doubt, ideally, cemented with a small donation and dues to our events.”

Hand-in-Pocket is co-sponsoring the ZOFLAT event. “HIP” considers itself the “anti- Nefesh b’Nefesh” and helps people dealing with American bureaucracy such as passport renewals, traffic tickets and the like.

Other First.One.Through Satires:

Netanyahu’s Doctoral Thesis on the Nakba

Palestinian Job Fair for Peace

Snack-Pack Inspections

The Joys of Iranian Pistachios and Caviar

ObamaCar to Address Garage Inequality

Silwan Circulars, Christmas 2014

Purim 5776/ 2016 Poem

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing trend in many Jewish communities to enhance the tradition of shaloch manot, sending gifts to their friends and neighbors on Purim.  The enhancement comes in the form of creating a “theme” for the gifts of food and candy, and including a poem.

This year, 5776 in the Jewish calendar and 2016 in the secular calendar, had various people using themes that included the US presidential race; recent movies; and popular singers.  Here is mine, that celebrated the infrequent occurrence of enjoying a leap year in both calendars.

How often is there a combined leap year
In both solar and lunar calendars?
One would need to look far and near
Measuring time with phased calipers.

Well, the year 2016 in the Gregorian tally
And 5776, in Jewish computation
Have aligned as natural allies,
And generated a special kind of elation.

You see, most of the world just adds a day
To that rump of a month in the frost.
While Jews go the all of the way-
Bringing a month to the front, embossed.

Jews have doubled the month of Adar
A month known as singularly happy.
Where sadness cannot otherwise mar
A people that is oftentimes sappy.

I yelled “Hooray! Two Adars is great!
Can we now celebrate Purim twice?”
But my rabbi set me straight-
“No, but that would have been nice.”

He suggested we double down on gifts-
Particularly, if serving alcohol.
But this shaloch manot has no fifths,
Yet the sentiment is the same, overall.

Happy Purim, Happy Purim!
Is our double exclamation!
Fill your own cup to the brim-
(Since Friday is anyway a vacation.)

Double Bubble, “Two”tsie rolls and Twix,
Are our way of highlighting the double.
Other great candy pairs are in the mix
As two foods get us out of trouble.

A bit more time to partake of the goodies,
In this year with added month and day.
But the shift will be quick for you foodies,
Since Pesach is still just a month away.

20160403_051611[1]


Subscribe YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: Israel Analysis

A Native American, An African American and a Hispanic American walk into Israel…

Restoring the indigenous population to their land

Native Americans: Native Americans lived in the United States for millennia before Europeans discovered the land. Within a few hundred years, the Europeans overwhelmed the native population and effectively banished them from their lands and homes. To add insult to the injury, the invaders forced new religions onto the remaining tribes.

In the 20th century, Americans began to slowly reverse course and offered more rights to the Native Americans, including American citizenship in 1924. At present, the United States recognizes several hundred Native American tribes and gives them some degree of autonomy in lands of their own.

Jews: Jews have lived in the land of Israel for roughly 3700 years. They had two independent kingdoms in the land and built their holiest Temples there. Roughly 1900 years ago, Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, forced conversion on thousands of Jews, banned Jews from Jerusalem, and renamed their holy land “Palestine”. While some Jews continued to live in the Holy Land, most were dispersed throughout the world.

In the 1800s Jews began to move back to their holy land in greater numbers. While much of the land had been taken over by Arabs who invaded Palestine in the 7th century, the world sought to reconstitute the Jewish homeland as so declared in the the 1922 League of Nations Mandate of Palestine.  The British assumed their Mandate of Palestine to encourage Jewish immigration, land ownership and citizenship in Palestine in 1924, the same year that America offered all Native Americans citizenship.

From Slavery

African Americans: While the Europeans came to conquer the New Worlds of North and South America, they brought Africans with them to be their slaves.  It took hundreds of years for the United States to abolish the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Jews: The Jewish people became a nation when they emerged from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt 3500 years ago.  It was only at that time that they received the Bible and entered the promised land.

On January 1, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln freed the black slaves in America, and just three days later, he abolished the most anti-Semitic decree in US history when he overrode General U.S. Grant’s order to expel the Jews.  In one week, Lincoln actively asserted the self-evident rights and dreams in the US Constitution, “that all men are created equal,” including blacks and Jews.

MLK

Advancing Minorities’ Interests

Hispanic Americans: Hispanics were always a decent segment of the United States population from the earliest colonies.  However, in 1964 and 1965, new laws were passed in the United States which dramatically increased their number and visibility.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination unlawful, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended a quota system from certain countries.  With those actions, the number of immigrants coming to the USA from Latin America jumped from 9% to 44% from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Jews: Jews were an unwelcome minority in many countries in the world, and in many parts of the United States.  Golf Clubs, universities and private clubs would not admit any Jews – some publicly, and others, privately. The same laws that addressed inequalities for black and Hispanic minorities, also helped Jews in America.

Beyond America’s shores, just a few years after the acts of 1964 and 1965, the Kingdom of Jordan which had evicted and banned every Jew from the area of Palestine it conquered in 1949, attacked Israel again.  In so doing, it lost that region of Palestine it had illegally annexed, the “West Bank.”  Israel quickly repealed the anti-Semitic bans and welcomed Jews once more.

American Minorities Come to Israel

Minority groups in America “get” the Jewish State of Israel.  African-Americans understand a history of slavery and persecution.  Native Americans understand being torn from land, culture and religion.  Hispanic Americans understand being excluded.

When these groups look at Israel, they instinctively get why the world made some attempt to rectify the long history of expelling and murdering Jews throughout Europe, Russia and northern Africa.  They have sought the same kind of consideration themselves.

But even more, when they come to Israel – to the reconstituted Jewish State – they see a success story.  They see that the vanquished can be victorious.  Where the excluded are now the leaders.  Where the defenseless are now a military powerhouse. Where a forgotten language has been reestablished.  Where a barren land has become an environmental leader.  Where a bankrupt society has become a financial success story.

Minorities that come to Israel see a country where minorities count.  Where women account for 24% of the Israeli Knesset, compared to only 16% in the US Congress.  Where Arabs represent 14% of the Knesset, versus only 8% black representatives in the US Congress.

Martin Luther King saidPeace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

Israel is not just a success story for Jews; it is a beacon of hope for minorities around the world.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Wearing Our Beliefs

There are a number of English expressions in which people describe their inner feelings by describing their external appearances.

For example, “Being comfortable in one’s skin” means exuding confidence and being content with one’s appearance.  The expression “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve” dates back hundreds of years. It is meant to convey the openness of one’s emotions for the world to see. The inner feelings are plain and visible for review, scrutiny, appreciation and/ or scorn.

What an individual decides to show to the outside world oftentimes says a lot about their personal beliefs and emotions.

The way a society dresses people, also says much about such society’s beliefs.

Nazi Germany Enforced Dress Code

During the Holocaust, the Germans made certain undesirable people wear badges on their outer-garments so the people could be easily identified. Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. Gays wore pink triangles. Jehovah’s Witnesses had purple ones. These symbols were not chosen by the individual as an outward expression of their faith, but by an evil society that chose to mark people for abuse, imprisonment, torture and death.

In the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, prisoners were tattooed by the Nazis beginning in autumn 1941. The numbering system etched into the arms of men, women and children, was used almost exclusively on Jews. The system allowed the Nazis to track and process hundreds of thousands of people who were not killed immediately. The ink relayed the cold reality that these prisoners were not in charge of their bodies anymore. Society no longer recognized their names nor humanity.

The evil of Nazi Germany was not simply that they viewed the “Aryan race” as superior – they viewed others as less than human.  The Nazis marked the clothing and bodies of those Untermensch to relay the Aryan perception of these sub-humans.

auschwitz tattoo

Jews Wearing Tefillin

Jewish tradition is an important component of the Jewish religion. While there are specific laws in Judaism, such as wearing phylacteries/ tefillin, the manner in which some Judaic laws are carried out changes according to custom.  Some people wrap the tefillin around the arm in an outward motion, while others wrap them going towards the body.  Some traditions have the entire name of God appearing on the hand while others only write a portion of the three letter name of God.

When a person wraps the tefillin straps around the fingers, he recites a quote from Hosea 2:19-20: “V’erastich li l’olam; v’erastich li b’tzedek u-v’mishpat u-v’chesed u-v’rachamim; v’erastich li b’emunah; v’yadat et adonai.
And I will betroth you to myself forever; and I will betroth you to myself in righteousness and in justice, in kindness and in mercy; and I will betroth you to myself in faithfulness, and you will know God.”

teffilin
Grandfather, father and two sons wearing tefillin
(photo: First.One.Through)

Just one generation ago, the dominant force in Europe labeled Jews and stole their humanity.  Today, when Jews put on tefillin, they assert themselves and declare their connection to both God and family tradition.


Related First.One.Through

The Touch of the Sound of the Shofar

The Termination Shock of Survivors

The EU’s Choice of Labels: “Made in West Bank” and “Anti-Semite”

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

In the year 164BCE, the Jews in the land of Israel successfully evicted the Selucid Greeks from Jerusalem and rededicated the Jewish Temple which had been defiled. Roughly 2200 years later, history has been inverted.

The Selucid Greeks Come to the Holy Land

The Selucid Greeks (from Syria) and the Egyptians were the major powers in the Middle East 2200 years ago. Israel acted as a buffer region between the two powers, and often fell under the authority of one or the other.

The Selucid King Antiochus III (241BCE-187BCE) expanded his kingdom into Asia and took control of Israel from the Egyptians. Generally, he treated the Jews well and they continued their autonomy and Temple worship in Jerusalem.  When he died, his son Antiochus IV became king, who sought to unify the various parts of the expanded Selucid kingdom via a common religion and culture. He removed the Jewish High Priest Yochanan from the Temple in Jerusalem and installed Yochanan’s brother Jason who was willing to permit more Hellenistic and pagan worship. Jason was later replaced by Menalus who promised even more pagan rituals.

Before long, Antiochus IV came to the holy land and began to ban important parts of Judaism such as circumcision and observing the Sabbath. He enforced his vision via the sword.

As the Selucid Greeks rampaged through Israel, they descended on an important city in the heart of Judea, 19km northwest of Jerusalem.

The Priestly City of Modi’in

Modi’in had grown into a large city full of priests to help manage Temple worship in Jerusalem. As thousands of Jews from northern Israel went to Jerusalem for sacrifices, the city was often overwhelmed both in terms of places for pilgrims to stay and in processing animals and offerings. Modi’in became the main city for Jews of northern Israel to stop into before continuing to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The priests in Modi’in acted as partners to Jerusalem’s priests in managing an orderly Temple service.

The priests of Modi’in were already alarmed by the defilement of the Temple when Antiochus came to their city to install pagan altars. The priests, led by Mattityahu, rebelled against Antiochus and over the next years, turned back the Selucid’s evil decrees and rededicated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday of Chanukah is a celebration of the re-establishment of Jewish autonomy throughout the holy land and purification of the holy Jewish Temple.

The Inverted Chanukah Today

The modern city of Modi’in was established in 1993 as a central hub halfway between the major Israeli urban centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As the city grew to nearly 100,000 people, it incorporated the neighboring villages of Maccabim (named after the Maccabees who fought the Selucid Greeks) and Re’ut. Nearby towns also carry the names of the Jewish heroes of 2200 years ago, such as Chashmona’im, named after the Hasmonean Dynasty.

In August 2012, the European Union declared that Modi’in was not part of the Jewish State.  The EU followed that ruling in November 2015, when it began to label any products from the city and the rest of Judea and Samaria as distinct from Israel.

While the EU was declaring that the heart of Judea and Samaria were not part of Israel, the Palestinian Arabs were complaining that Jews were defiling their holy places on the Temple Mount.

In September 2015, acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas called for Arabs to rebel against Jews who were defiling Jerusalem: “We bless you, we bless the Murabitin (those carrying out Ribat, religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic), we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”

Arabs took the streets with knives stabbing Jews throughout the holy land.  The United Nations, the United States and the EU did not condemn Abbas’s calls of incitement.  Instead, they spoke about the “legitimate grievances” of Muslims and Arabs.  In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to limit access for Jews to the Temple Mount.

 

This Chanukah, the world bears witness to evil in the Middle East once again, as Palestinian Arabs stab Israeli civilians and the Islamic State beheads infidels.  The desire to establish a homogeneous religion and culture still simmers in the Arab world.

But some history is now inverted:

  • Modi’in, the large ancient city where the Jewish revolt was launched, which now houses nearly 100,000 Jews, is now not considered part of the Jewish State by the global community.
  • The Jews complained and fought to remove pagan practices from their Temple long ago, and now Muslims seek to remove Jews from the Temple Mount (even though the Jews have done nothing to block Muslim worship).

On the first Chanukah 2200 years ago, Jews purged the pagan presence from Judea and Jerusalem.  Today, the world works to purge those cities of Jews.

This year, Jews should not just celebrate the holiday of lights, but commemorate the holiday of rights.  The meaning of the holiday is about Jewish autonomy and rights of worship from Judea to Jerusalem.  Put your menorah in the window and your voice on the web.

Moddin menora
Chanukah in Modi’in 2015
(photo: Elliot Bache)


Related First.One.Through articles

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

Losing the Temples, Knowledge and Caring

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

 

 

The Nation of Israel Prevails

The weekly Torah portion of Vayishlach, describes a famous story in the life of Jacob.  It is a message that Israeli Jews continue to hold dear.

 

Jacob had left his parent’s home fearing for his life, as his brother Esau had threatened to kill him.  After many years away, Jacob prepared to return with his new large family, only to discover that Esau had a welcoming party for him of 400 men, an army.

Assuming a battle, Jacob prepared to meet his brother Esau by separating his family into two groups, hoping that one group could escape while the other fought Esau’s army.  Jacob did not anticipate that there would be another fight before he even encountered Esau.

Genesis 32:24-30 relays the story of Jacob being left alone after readying his family. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He  said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Jacob-Struggle-With-Angel
Jacob Struggles with an Angel
Gustav Dore (1832-1883)

Sages relayed that the man with whom Jacob wrestled was an angel, both a physical man and divinely creature.  This angel was both a symbol and a messenger: Jacob had fought with men such as Esau and his father-in-law Lavan, but also in his relationship with God.  The angel let Jacob know that as he had prevailed in the past, he would again prevail when he encounters his brother.  As such, the angel renamed Jacob “Yisrael” which is a combination of Hebrew words conveying both the struggle and the success.

Yisrael Today

The Jews of today were originally called “the Sons of Israel” in the bible, not the sons of Jacob.  They carried Jacob’s new name and the knowledge that while they continued to struggle with both man and God, they would ultimately prevail.

Jewish history is full of difficult encounters with men, whether in the holy land or around the world.  Jews lost many more battles than they won which often led them to question their belief in God.  Sages debated whether that cause-and-effect was actually reversed, and considered whether Jews lost so many fights because they failed in their relationship with God.

The Holocaust is an example of the terrible struggle Jews had with man and God. The very government to which Jews remained loyal, turned on them and butchered them.  Holocaust Survivors were left to question both the morality of men as well as the role of God. Was “surviving” really prevailing? On a broader basis, was the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel after the slaughter of one-third of the global Jewish population, really “prevailing?”  Is the definition of “prevailing” staying alive, a tangible victory of a self-governing homeland, or simply maintaining faith?

Today, Jews continue to grapple with those relationships and questions.  In November 2015, an Israeli woman preparing for her wedding was informed that a Palestinian Arab terrorist killed her father and brother.  She delayed the wedding so she could bury her family members and sit shiva, seven days of mourning.  As she ended her mourning, she invited the entire country to join in the wedding celebration.  Her invitation carried a message from the prophet Micah:

Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise”

The heavenly promise of overcoming battles was matched by human determination.  The bride said precisely from the pain in the month of courage before Hanukkah we will, together with all the nation of Israel, spread a great light of joy, giving and love that the nation of Israel has inundated upon us.

Her voice was echoed by thousands of Jews who came to the wedding in Jerusalem waving Israeli flags singing “The Nation of Israel Lives!”

The children of Israel continue to wrestle with God and man, but prevail. They prevail in being alive, in the Jewish State with complete faith in God.

Am Yisrael Chai.


Related First.One.Through article and video:

From Promised Land to Promised Home

The 2011 Massacre of the Fogels in Itamar (Gorecki)

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Rick Jacobs’ Particular Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) held its biennial in Orlando, FL in November 2015. The head of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, gave opening remarks that laid out his personal politics and worldview as the belief system of Reform Judaism.

rickjacobs
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs
November 2015

Politics

Rabbi Jacobs is not a stranger to politics. In November 2014, Jacobs urged the state of Israel to not go forward with legislation to reaffirm its Jewish character. His position was that Israel needs more pluralism than Judaism; more universalism than particularism. In his opening speech to the Reform Movement one year later, he made clear that Judaism itself needed more of that approach too.

Jacobs spoke about Jewish values that are rooted in the Torah such as loving the stranger in your midst. He said that “thirty-six times the bible reminds us ‘v’ahavtem et ha’ger’ – to love the resident alien and treat the stranger as ourselves.” Indeed, such quotes are throughout the bible such as:

  • “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
  • You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21)
  • He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

However, Jacobs opted to then announce his own personal political views as being the official mantra of the Reform Movement: specifically that Jews living east of the Green Line (EGL) in Judea and Samaria is wrong and should be opposed. He stated the “Reform Movement has long opposed Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. The occupation threatens the very Zionism that we hold dear: the living expression of a Jewish democratic state.

Ignore for a moment that the global community endorsed Jews living throughout Palestine in the British Mandate of 1922.  How does a movement that prides itself on universalism advocate that anyone should be banned from living somewhere? How does a Jewish movement call for Jews being barred from living anywhere? How can a rabbi advocate for an anti-Semitic policy that is also directly against the bible?

Jacobs wants to see peace in holy land; he has no monopoly on that desire.

But why does a policy of welcoming strangers, mean adopting their hateful agenda? While Palestinian Arabs may demand Jews be prevented from buying and living in homes east of the Green Line (EGL), why should Jews endorse the same policy? There are many paths to a two state solution – and actual peace – that would not bar Jews from living in parts of the holy land.

The vast majority of Jews living EGL/ Judea and Samaria, want to live at peace with their Arab neighbors. These are lands that Jews have lived in for thousands of years and without any prohibitions from the League of Nations nor under the Ottomans before them.

While many Reform Jews may agree with Jacobs and his J Street view, does Reform Judaism leave no room for Jews with different views? Is Reform Judaism only open to radical liberals?

A Failure to Educate and Celebrate Israel

Jacobs did passionately defend Israel and spoke clearly of his opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).  He continued that many young people “feel that Israel has become too intolerant, not only of Arab citizens, but also of non-Orthodox Jews, Ethiopian Jews, LGBT Jews, asylum seekers and others.” He tacitly agreed to this viewpoint.

Exactly how does Jacobs believe that he defends Israel?  Just by saying that he is against BDS?

Why doesn’t he educate people and celebrate the accomplishments of Israel? Why isn’t he and the Reform Movement at the forefront of telling fellow liberal friends that Israel is the most liberal country in the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and in much of the world?


Jacobs called for a Reform Judaism that welcomes everyone in something he called “audacious hospitality.” He advocated a universalistic approach to the world over one of particularism.

Yet the leader of the Reform movement put forth a narrow political agenda regarding Israel that only spoke to a slice of its members, and by doing so created a wedge within the community about Israel. He failed to educate the community about Israel’s values that it shares, and thereby left a gap between Reform Judaism and the Jewish State.

There is a lot to love about Israel and much to learn about the different approaches to peace in the Middle East.  It would be better – and more consistent – for Rabbi Jacobs to understand that Reform Jews have a range of opinions about Israel that are consistent with Judaism and “loving one’s neighbor as thyself”, not in priority over oneself.

It would also go a long way to healing rifts between the broader Jewish community, and between the diaspora community and Israel.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

A Disservice to Jewish Community

Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis